Why Hearthstone’s Next Update Both Thrills and Terrifies Me

Big changes are coming to Hearthstone with the next expansion.  Along with new cards, the next content update will also feature a number of major changes that will alter how the entire game is played.  For one thing, the single most requested feature for Hearthstone, an increase in the amount of deck slots, is finally coming.  All players will have eighteen deck slots available, double the current amount.  That is automatically a major deal, but that isn’t even the biggest change that’s on the way.  The really big news is the introduction of two new modes that online play will be divided between.

Online play will be split between Standard and Wild mode.  Ironically, it’s Wild mode that will be the more normal one for those that are already used to Hearthstone.  Wild mode will play much the same way as the game is currently played with all cards across all expansions being legal to play.  It’s in Standard mode where the rules get shaken up and certain older expansions are rendered unusable.  Once the next expansion is added, it will begin what Blizzard is calling the Year of the Kraken, where only cards included in the Basic and Classic sets and all the expansions released in 2015 and 2016 will be legal for Standard play.  All cards included in Goblins Vs Gnomes and Curse of Naxxramas will not be usable in Standard play.  Also, once the first expansion of 2017 releases, the cards in Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament, and League of Explorers will also start to be rotated out of this mode.  The Basic and Classic sets will remain constant fixtures throughout the game’s history and will never be phased out.  Both Standard and Wild will have their own Ranked ladders, and other modes like Arena, Adventures, and most Tavern Brawls will be classified as Wild and have all cards considered legal.

This could potentially be the best thing that has ever happened to Hearthstone.  Ranked play has had a regular problem of its meta being dominated by a select few decks that are especially powerful and only a few select new cards that play into those themes entering the meta.  On top of making things stale, this has made it difficult for new players to get started as there are so many cards needed to stay competitive.  Standard not only encourages developing new decks, but also provides a more welcoming experience for players who are just beginning their collections.  This kind of segmentation seems like just the kind of shake-up that Hearthstone has been needing and I haven’t been this excited for the game since I first started playing it in the vanilla version.

Sadly, I can’t help but have plenty of concerns about this change, as well.  While there’s a lot of potential good that can come from this, there are also ways it can go horribly wrong.  One thing I immediately dislike about how the old expansions will be phased out is that they’ll no longer be available to purchase from the in-game store.  Once the new expansion releases, GvG packs and Naxx wings will be gone.  You will still be able to craft all the cards from these expansions using dust, but you won’t be able to spend in-game gold or real money to acquire them.  One exception to this is that, if you own at least one wing of an adventure, you will still be able to purchase the remaining wings of that same adventure at your leisure even if that adventure has been retired.  It seems like a harsh punishment for those of us trying to build a complete collection, but I suppose it helps idiot-proof the game for new players who should be focusing on Standard mode.  This also comes with the advantage that old Adventure cards will no longer be soulbound and can be disenchanted for dust.  However, if you have any interest in Hearthstone, I advise you jump in now and pick up one wing from Naxx while you can.  Not only are the bosses a fun challenge, they’re much easier to go through than crafting the individual cards.

The next big concern I have is how the loss of certain cards can hurt the meta.  While I’m happy to see Piloted Shredder and Dr. Boom fall by the wayside, there are plenty of valuable anti-aggro cards that we’ll also be losing.  Annoy-o-tron, Sludge Belcher, and Antique Healbot are all key to countering extremely fast decks like Face Hunter and Aggro Shaman, and those decks will still have most of their tools when Year of the Kraken rolls in.  While we’ll still have Reno Jackson, the king of shutting down aggro decks, we are going to need at least one or two new neutral cards introduced in the next expansion that help with survivability.  That’s just one element to consider with two whole sets being set aside, and this is going to be a constant factor with each new annual cycle.  How well certain decks can be kept in check is going to depend heavily on the designers keeping a close eye on what niches can become overpowered and which deserve to be bolstered.  Considering these are the same people who seem convinced that Taunt Warrior is a thing that exists, that is fairly scary.

The last thing I’m worried about how Standard mode will effect the design philosophy of future cards.  While Standard is being pushed as the competitive mode, I’m still interested in the possibilities for Wild mode.  Introducing Standard mode gives the developers more freedom to introduce new cards with a more focused meta, but it also gives them an excuse to throw the balance of Wild into complete chaos.  I don’t expect Wild to be especially refined and I’m open to it having plenty of crazy decks, but I don’t want the response to blatantly broken decks to be a shrug and a cry of “Thaaat’s Wild mode!”  I still want Wild mode to be a legitimate playstyle in its own right.  I want balance changes to still be on the table for older cards and for some consideration to be given for how Wild mode will be effected by new cards.  My worst fear for Wild mode is for it to become dominated by a small selection of decks like we’ve seen with Face Hunter and Secret Paladin in the past.  Wild mode should live up to its name and be fertile ground for experimentation and unpredictability, not relegated to regimentation.  With it having its own ranked ladder and being the playstyle for several modes, it looks like Wild mode will still be receiving the love and care I’m hoping for.  All the same, I can’t ignore the nagging feeling at the back of my head that Wild mode will be used as the dumping ground for the most egregious net-decking.

What are your thoughts on Standard mode?  What has you excited or worried about how Hearthstone will be changing this year?  With all my own concerns, I do still see the pros outweighing the cons and this being a change for the best.  There’s always a chance that this could blow up in all our faces, but those are just the risks you have to take to push things further.  Once the new expansion is revealed later this season, it will either dispel or confirm our reservations on this evolution.  Until then, it’s important that we voice our opinions on what the future can hold as it’s the only way we voice to the developers what we want out of the game and try to shape things in a way we can all be happy with.

Hearthstone Guide: Best GvG Mage Cards

The Grand Tournament expansion has released for Hearthstone and you can bet that I’m taking a close look at all of the new cards and writing up on which cards are most worth having.  However, it’s going to take some time for the new meta game to settle and for the best cards to show their true colors.  In the meantime, now seems as good a time as ever to look back on the last major expansion, Goblins Vs Gnomes, and how it affected the Mage class.  We’ve already covered the best Mage cards from the classic set, but it’s about time we gave GvG its due.

Goblin_Blastmage

5. Goblin Blastmage

This one only gets fifth place here as it’s only good in mech decks, so he’s not worth having unless you also have plenty of mech cards to go with him.  However, he is a must in any Mech Mage deck.  A 5/4 for 4 mana is a decent enough body and his effect, while unpredictable, can easily give you a huge lead.  He can soften up larger targets for your minions or spells to finish off or wipe an entire swarm of smaller minions.  The only thing to really consider is knowing how to properly prepared the board before playing Blastmage inorder to maximize your chances of getting good value out of him (e.g. if there’s one big enemy minion that you can kill without the Blastmage and a few smaller ones, kill the big one first to reduce the chances of wasted shots).

Echo_of_Medivh

4. Echo of Medivh

While it’s not as apparent as with Goblin Blastmage, Echo of Medivh needs to have specific decks built around it in order to truly be worthwhile.  However, used in the right deck and played at the right time, it can give you a massive advantage with a strong supply of minions.  Given its 4 mana cost, you’re going to need to get a few good minions out of it in order to have an impact on the game.  One especially crazy strategy is to play a high-risk Mage deck with Molten Giants and swarm the board with free giants when your health is low and then catch up on defenses with Sunfury Protector and Ice Barrier, but that’s not a tactic you’ll be able to easily put together on a budget.  Still, even a lackluster board can make great use of Echo of Medivh as the simple ability to maintain a board presence is where this card truly shines.  This is especially potent in the arena where board presence is everything.  The only time it’s truly bad is if you only have one smaller minion on the board and end up spending more on the spell than the actual minions it created.  Otherwise, it’s a great card across a number of different Mage decks.

Unstable_Portal

3. Unstable Portal

There may be a massive amount of randomness involved with Unstable Portal, but time has shown that it is definitely a dice worth rolling.  What makes it such a powerful card is that it discounts whatever minion it generates by 3 mana and that discount lasts until the card is played.  If you get anything worth 3 mana or more, you get to play it earlier than you normally could and that can give you incredible board control and leave your opponent fighting an uphill battle.  Even if you only get a 2-drop, that is still decent enough for what you put in for it.  The only risk is overpaying mana for a 1 or even 0 mana minion or getting a minion with an effect that would work against you.  As such, you should treat the portal as card draw and save it for when you have spare mana or no better plays.  The odds of it whiffing are minute compared to the incredible possibilities available.

Snowchugger

2. Snowchugger

Against any class that relies on attacking with the hero to maintain tempo, such as Warrior, Rogue, and Druid, Snowchugger is an absolute nightmare.  While a 3/2 for 2 is usually better than a 2/3 for its ability to trade up with most 3-drops, Snowchugger is made better by its focus on durability as it allows you more of a tempo lead as you freeze your opponent early on.  Even without the mech typing, this card would already be a powerful early-game play that can also help keep you going if drawn in the late game.  Add a mech type and you have an incredible versatile minion.

Flamecannon

1. Flamecannon

While there may be some randomness involved with Flamecannon, its ability to level even mid-game minions at such a low cost is well worth it.  The key to Flamecannon is keeping control of the board and reducing the amount of randomness involved with this spell.  Trade up on smaller targets first and then use Flamecannon to shut down remaining threats.  Played carefully, it can seal control of the early game in your favor and leave your opponent fighting an uphill battle with little effort.  It’s also worth noting that it works best in combination with Frostbolt rather than as a replacement for it.  Along with a few cheap minions, you can easily take an early lead you’re not likely to lose.

If you’re wondering why the Mage’s legendary card for GvG, Flame Leviathan, is missing from this list, it’s because it’s actually an extremely weak card.  While legendaries like Antonidas and Jaraxxarus are incredibly strong, the hardest cards to find aren’t always the best.  In fact, there are plenty of legendary cards that can’t hold a candle to a good common.  Legendaries are most notable for having the flashiest effects and only allowing one copy of it per deck as opposed to the usual two, but that doesn’t always translate to an practical card.  Flame Leviathan is an example of a card that is far too unpredictable, is liable to put you in a worse position than your opponent, and simply doesn’t fit well with just about any deck.  The most powerful cards will always be the most sensible ones rather than the ones that aim for style points, and keeping that in mind will guide you towards the best strategies.  Be sure to keep your eyes on VgamerZ for more on building your Hearthstone collection.

(Slowpoke art by VGCats)

Hearthstone Guide: Best Neutral Rare Cards

Cards

It’s been awhile with all of the Blackrock Mountain coverage coming up, but it’s finally time for another Hearthstone guide to help you build up your collection of cards. This time around, we’ll be looking at the best neutral rare cards that can benefit almost any deck.  Good rares aren’t that hard to come by, but it may be worth crafting some of these if you just can’t find them through packs.  These cards are featured based on being good in general and working well in most decks rather than filling specific deck types.  Unfortunately, the Classic and Goblins vs. Gnomes sets won’t be split up like in the commons guide as GvG didn’t introduce many good neutral rares into the game.  In fact, there’s only one GvG card on this list.  It may seem unfair to the expansion, but I’m more interested in pointing out good cards to my readers rather than represent underwhelming cards just for the sake of it.

StampedingKodo

10. Stampeding Kudo

This is definitely the most situational card on this list, hence why it’s only at #10, but it’s still a valuable card.  Minions with 2 attack power aren’t especially common in the meta and even those you will see generally aren’t big threats.  Kodo is most useful in Paladin and Priest decks as they have ways of reducing an enemy’s attack value and opening up more targets for the Kodo.  Still, removing an enemy minion with just a battlecry is pretty strong.  It’s not good enough to run in just any deck, but it is versatile enough to be worth hanging onto.

SunfuryProtector

9. Sunfury Protector

Not much to complain about with the Sunfury Protector.  She can be decent as just a turn 2 play if you have no better options in your hand and need a body on the board.  She can also be a lifesaver in the late game with the ability to give any friendly minion taunt.  In fact, she can affect two of your minions at once, but you may be more interested in keeping that second minion alive.  Protector is worth playing around with just for the lessons she’ll teach you in the importance of placement on the board.  Throwing your minions anywhere can leave them vulnerable to certain spells and effects and strategic placement can save them from destruction.  Likewise, you want to consider how to set the board to get the most out of your own effects.  Nothing will make you feel worse than having to play Protector in-between one minion you wanted to taunt up and one you’ve been trying to keep alive just because you didn’t place something in-between them when you had the chance.

VioletTeacher

8. Violet Teacher

At the cost of 1 attack point that you would have had with a Chillwind Yeti, Violet Teacher allows you to fill the board with expendable token minions and overwhelm your opponent.  The only thing to keep in mind with Teacher is that you have to spend a spell to trigger her ability and this can potentially lead you into a value trap.  You want to think of the Violet Apprentices as a bonus to casting spells that you already plan on using rather than using your spells as a means to flood the board.  If you toss out your spells recklessly, your opponent can take advantage of that and leave you desperately behind on resources.  Played wisely, Teacher can be fearsome minion that decimates the field.

BombLobber

7. Bomb Lobber

Here’s our only entry from the Goblins vs Gnomes expansion and it’s a good one.  He might appear questionable at first glance given his poor stat line and the randomness of where he aims his 4 damage battlecry.  However, he proves far more reliable in practice as getting him to hit the best target is simply a matter of maintaining control of the board and clearing the weaker minions as best as you can first.  His ability to trade well with such ease makes him a valuable asset and simple needs some clever set-ups to crush the opposition.

ArgentCommander

6. Argent Commander

Charge and divine shield make for a fairly potent combination.  Argent Commander can strike as soon as he steps on the board and his divine shield means that he won’t have to sacrifice himself in order to take down an imposing target as divine shield completely absorbs damage for a single attack.  Not only is he great at controlling the board, he’s also a good late-game play in aggressive decks.  He’s not likely to live long with only 2 health, but the fact that your opponent still needs to content with him at all after he’s already dealt a major blow makes him extremely valuable.

WildPyromancer

5. Wild Pyromancer

There can be times where a Wild Pyromancer is the last thing you want to play as he can tear up your own minions just as quickly as he can tear up your opponent’s.  Still, the number of combos and board-clears that he can carry out in various decks make him a must-have.  He’s deadliest in Paladin where the Equality spell allows him to instantly wipe the entire board, but any class can find a great use for him.  His stat line is also excellent, meaning the only decks that he is horrible in are the ones built around flooding the board with small bodies.  Otherwise, he’s a strong contender.  Just keep in mind that his effect goes off every time you play a spell and it’s easy to make critical mistakes while you have him on the board.

DefenderOfArgus

4. Defender of Argus

Take everything I said about the Sunfury Protector earlier and double it for the Defender of Argus.  While his stat line is weak, Defender’s incredible battlecry easily makes up for it.  Whether you’re trying to regain control of a game or pushing for a win, he can quickly turn a fairly weak board into a force to be reckoned with.  The only caveat is that you need to already have minions on the board to buff, so he is somewhat weak in slower decks dedicated to playing large bodies in the late game.  If you have a fair share of smaller minions that can swarm early on, on the other hand, he will make juggernauts.  While Protector can be played on an empty board with few regrets, Defender’s value lies entirely on his battlecry and needs to be saved for just the right moment.

AzureDrake

3. Azure Drake

This card does so much that it’s pretty hard to resist.  Minions with draw effects tend to have terrible stat lines and, while a 4/4 for 5 mana isn’t phenomenal, it’s still a tough enough body to put up a fight.  Add bonus spell damage and the soon-to-be relevant dragon synergy onto that and this is a difficult card to resist.  This is already a fairly popular card and it’s only going to see more use once Blackrock Mountain releases.

Sunwalker

2. Sunwalker

If you’re looking for some late-game protection, nobody is going to keep you secure like a Sunwalker.  For as good as charge and divine shield go together, taunt and divine shield are even better and allow you to wrestle back control in almost any game.  Sunwalker is an incredible durable minion that your opponent will have little choice but to force their way through and take heavy damage as a result.  Even in the unfortunate event that she gets silenced, her 4/5 stat line alone will be enough to stay in the fight.  Definitely put her in your collection.

KnifeJuggler

1. Knife Juggler

Honestly, it’s debatable as to whether or not the Knife Juggler needs to be nerfed.  He already has an excellent stat line as a 3/2 for 2 mana, but his special ability to deal 1 damage to a random enemy whenever you summon a minion makes him one of the most useful cards in the entire game.  In token-heavy decks like Zoolock, Juggler can be devastating if played at the right time.  However, there isn’t exactly a bad deck to include a Juggler or two in.  Even if his knifes only hit the opponents face, he’s still doing more work than most other 2-drops out there.  Like with the Violet Teacher and spells, you will want to be careful about playing too many minions at once and making yourself vulnerable board-clearing spells.  If you start crafting rares, make sure you start with the Juggler.

That’s it for this Hearthstone guide.  Be sure to keep an eye out for these handy cards and start improving your deck builds.  Next time, I’ll visit the Mage class to catch up with how much it’s improved with GvG.  Until then, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve retired the cheesy line that I used to throw in at the end of these guides.

Hearthstone Guide: Best Neutral Common Cards

Hearthstone

We’ve taken you through some of the most reliable cards for the Basic set and for the Mage class, so now is a good time to go over some of the best common cards out there for your Hearthstone collection.  Neutral cards can be used in any deck regardless of class will be vital to filling out all of your decks.  I don’t recommend going out of your way to craft any of these cards because your going to open plenty of packs over the course of the game and just be flooded with commons.  Rather, these are the cards that you’ll be able to run with in the most decks, are the most reliable on a general basis, and you shouldn’t disenchant to stock up on dust.

I’ll be going over the five best Hearthstone common cards from both the Classic set and the Goblins versus Gnomes expansion.

Classic Set

5. Ironbeak Owl

Silence is a valuable resource in Hearthstone as it can remove any buff, debuff, or built-in ability of a minion.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many good cards with silence effects and Ironbeak Owl isn’t an exception.  Any minion with only 1 health isn’t going to go far and is especially bad against classes that can kill it with their hero power like Mage.  That said, the Owl’s low cost means that it can do its job without taking up too much of your turn and can generally be pretty viable.  The fact that it’s a beast type can also have some value, but only in very specific decks.  In some decks, you may want to use the beefier Spellbreaker instead.  It all depends on how your mana curve is balancing out and how important Silence is for the strategy that you’re going for.

4. Frost Elemental

Being able to control the game in its late stages is vital and few help you hold the board like the Frost Elemental.  Its 5/5 body holds up well in the late game and its ability to freeze an enemy when its summoned gives you an opening to trade favorably or can even save you from certain death.  Freeze prevents an enemy from attacking for one turn and can cause a serious tempo swing.  You’ll probably trade it out with rarer minions as your collection grows, but it’s a good pick in the early days.

3. Acolyte of Pain

Card draw is vital in any deck as it keeps your options varied.  Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Cult Master are good options in specific decks, but the Acolyte of Pain can serve you well in almost any deck.  Its 1/3 stat line for 3 mana is weak, but you can get a good amount of draw out of him with smart plays.  The Acolyte draws a card for you any time he takes damage and could potentially give you a serious card advantage over your opponent.  Buffing and healing him with a Paladin or Priest deck can make him an incredible resource.  Perhaps the best classes for getting value out of him are Mage and Warrior as you can easily damage the Acolyte on your own and ensure that you get a good amount of draw out of him.

2. Dark Iron Dwarf

As I’ve said before, turn 4 is one of the most crucial in the game because that is when the Yetis start to come out and you need to be able to trade favorable with that 4/5 stat line.  The Dark Iron Dwarf, on its own, may not be able to handle an enemy yeti well, but his ability to give a minion 2 more attack points for one turn allows you to trade one of your early minions into one of your opponent’s mid-game minions while also putting a tough 4/4 on the board.  He’s both a highly adaptive bit of utility and a solid body on his own.  The smaller version, Abusive Sergeant, can have similar utility, but is less likely to trade well on his own with only 1 health.

1. Harvest Golem

This was a very easy pick as Harvest Golem has always been one of the best cards in the game, common or otherwise.  A 2/3 stat line at turn three isn’t great on its own, but its ability to bring a 2/1 to the board after it dies makes it a very sticky minion that gives you a strong control of the game.  Yeah, your opponent can silence it to stop the token from appearing, but silence is a precious resource and seeing your opponent spend it early will make your late-game minions all the more secure.  With the release of Goblins versus Gnomes, it has actually gotten even better with the addition of mech synergy on both the Golem itself and the token it summons.

Goblins versus Gnomes

5. Annoy-o-Tron

Need to protect your side of the board even in the early game?  Annoy-o-Tron is just what you’re looking for.  Armed with taunt and divine shield, Annoy-o-Tron takes a while to get rid of, but your opponent has no choice other than to focus on it first.  Meanwhile, you can set up a team of minions to harass you opponent and gain an early edge on the match.  Annoy-o-Tron also scales decently into the late game, soaking up two hits that your opponent would have rather used to finish you off.

4. Piloted Shredder

Much like the Harvest Golem, Piloted Shredder is good simply for being a sticky minion.  However, it’s not as good as Harvest Golem because it is much less consistent.  Your 4/3 Shredder could die and be replaced by a 4/4 Millhouse Manastorm without any drawbacks.  On the other hand, you could end up with a measly 1/1 Novice Engineer without even getting the card draw out of it.  You could even get a Doomsayer or Lorewalker Cho at the worst or best possible time.  Any collectible 2 drop in the game, including class exclusive cards, could appear when that Shredder hits the eject button and the results are anyone’s guess.  Still, the important part is that you have a body on the board.

3. Mechwarper

This card is flat-out broken.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around how Blizzard could release something this blatantly overpowered.  While a 2/3 for 2 mana isn’t quite as good in general as a 3/2, it is still a good stat line and that heightened survivability makes its ability to reduce the mana cost of all of your mechs go farther.  It’s also a mech itself and getting two onto the board early on allows you to flood the board with ease in constructed play.  So, what incentive is there to use something like a River Crocolisk or a Pint-Sized Summoner over this?  What drawback is built into this otherwise devastating minion?  THERE IS NONE!  Mechwarper is just inherently better than almost every other neutral 2 drop in the game just because it is.  There are five other mechs on this list and we’re not even covering the class exclusive mechs, so you can imagine just how insane this card is in the current meta game.  Mechwarper should have been nerfed months ago back when GvG was still in development.  Fortunately, Hearthstone has a policy that any non-soulbound card that gets nerfed can be disenchanted for full dust value, so you have nothing to lose by crafting blatantly broken cards like this and running them in every deck you build.

2. Antique Healbot

Some decks demand damage mitigation, particularly weapon-heavy ones, and you don’t get much better options than the Antique Healbot’s ability to heal 8 points to your hero when its summoned.  Many cards that directly effect the health of the heroes, like Nightblade and Priestess of Elune, tend to be overpriced for their effects and are unplayable, but Healbot only costs 2 more mana than you would normally pay for a minion like it for massive recuperation.  If you need a way to last against aggressive decks, Healbot is just what you need to bounce back from the abuse.

1. Spider Tank

As I’ve said with the Chillwind Yeti, a good stat line can be all that a card needs to be great.  Most 3 drops in the game have 3/3 stat lines, meaning that the 3/4 Spider Tank can trade favorably with in most situations.  The Tank also counts as a mech, so there are plenty of cards to make it even more useful. Whether you’re looking flashy mech plays or pure substance, the Spider Tank delivers on all fronts.

Your Hearthstone collection is off to a good start, but there are plenty more facets of the game to go over.  Next time, I’ll take you through one of the best classes that even new players with few cards can build a competitive deck from.  Happy dealings.