Hearthstone players need to get ready for what might be the biggest change to the game yet. Earlier today Blizzard announced that it would be establishing a new two format system in order to spice up the game and prevent stagnation. These formats will arrive sometime this spring.
The first of these formats is "Standard," and it will be the default format for play across the Ranked, Casual, and Friendly Challenge modes. In this format, players will have access to cards that arrived in the last two years of play, plus the "Basic" and "Classic" sets from the game's launch. Because of this, cards from the Curse of Naxxramus adventure and the Goblins vs Gnomes expansion will not be legal to include in decks. This will roll forward on a yearly basis, so each Spring you can expect additional sets to be removed from the Standard format. This format change is also providing Blizzard an excuse to go back in and rebalance some of the major cards that are still in rotation, though there aren't any specific details about that process yet.
Blizzard's rationale for the creation of this format echoes that of many collectible and legacy card games that have come before it. The hope is that by limiting the card base, new players will be able to get into the game without spending cash or time trying to get old cards that are all but necessary if you want to play competitively. It also frees up the designers to make new cards without worrying about potentially game-breaking combos with cards from years ago. As someone who has played tons of tabletop card games over the years, it always felt like this decision was inevitable.
The second format, Wild, will give players a place to continue playing with all of the cards ever released for Hearthstone. When playing in this format, Blizzard promises that players will continue to "finish quests, earn gold, rank up on the ladder, get card backs, [and] earn Legend rank," so if you're determined to keep using that Annoy-A-Tron, you should stick to Wild (and you can also go to hell, as far as I'm concerned.) Hearthstone's popular Arena mode will run the Wild format, which means that it will only get more surprising as the years continue.
Overall, I'm onboard with this devleopment. It should keep Hearthsone healthy and fresh, which will encourage lapsed players like me to dip our toes back in. One thing I'm less crazy about, though, is that along with this switch, Blizzard will be shelving content that isn't Standard legal:
Adventures and Expansions that are not part of the Standard format will no longer be available for purchase from the Shop—this year, that includes Naxxramas and Goblins vs Gnomes. If you want any cards you missed out on for Wild play or just to fill out your collection, you’ll be able to craft them using Arcane Dust—even cards from Adventures that were previously un-craftable. Speaking of Adventures, if you’ve purchased at least the first wing of an Adventure before it cycled out, you’ll still be able to finish acquiring and playing the remaining wings.
Listen. I totally get setting up a cycle of legal cards. But taking old content off the market? Especially when some of that content, like the recent League of Explorers adventure, is so unique? That seems like a real misstep. If anything, I'd hoped that establishing the Standard format would mean that retired Adventures and Expansions would get a price discount. Seeing them removed all together really bums me out, because it means that a few years from now, Hearthstone players interested in diving deep into the Wild format will have an extra hard time building ridiculous decks and checking out much of the game's history.
Early fan reaction to this whole announcement is mixed to say the least. While some players have experience with CCGs and have come to expect this sort of system, others have been pretty blindsided by the move. It's fair to say that Blizzard has a high bar to clear in order to prove to these players that this decision is necessary. As an on-again-off-again fan of the game myself, I definitely hope they clear that bar.